Sunday, July 11, 2010

The one over many

Ecclesial consumerism carries with it a crucial theological assumption. The church-shopping phenomenon presupposes that none of the churches is the true Church that Christ founded. That’s precisely why the church-shopper believes he can pick whichever presently existing church best suits him. If, however, one of the present churches is the true Church that Christ founded, and the others are to some degree or other mere imitations, then none of those other criteria (e.g. quality of preaching, conformity to one’s own interpretation, musical endowment, child care provision, community, etc.) is relevant in determining where to be on Sunday mornings. Only if none of the existing churches is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Christ founded do the other criteria become relevant. In short, only if Christ never founded a visible universal Church, or it ceased to exist, does ecclesial consumerism become an option.2

In the proper order of inquiry, however, one can engage in ecclesial consumerism only after one has established that either Christ never founded a visible universal Church, or that it ceased to exist. But the invisible-church ecclesiology underlying the contemporary practice of church-shopping is typically taken for granted, never established.3 Invisible-church ecclesiology is part of the theological air we breath in our present religious culture, so familiar and ubiquitous that it remains unnoticed and unconsidered to all those within it.

One of the problems with the way Bryan has framed the alternatives is that he is also making a crucial assumption, which he doesn’t bother to justify.

He’s assuming a one-to-one correspondence between the “one true church” and concrete manifestations of the “one true church.” For him, there can only be one “visible, universal” instance of the “one true church.”

But that’s like saying there can only be one human being. Yet we know that’s not the case. Human nature can be multiply exemplified in time and space. Billions of discrete human beings share a common nature. They are visible variants of the same natural kind of being.

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